Health News: The Truth is Out There... Somewhere

How do you distinguish a good media story on food, nutrition or health from a not-so-great one? The issue cropped up this past month when the news crowd clamored to cover research that said organic foods weren't any healthier than conventionally produced foods. Media headlines misled and many stories often missed significant details in the research. You can read more about the controversy at www.healthnewsreview.org.

However, these lively discussions remind us of the importance (and necessity) of knowing how to glean sound health advice and information from "news" that may miss key points. Practice critical thinking as you ask the following questions to determine how reliable any given media information is.

Ask Yourself These Critical Questions*

  • What is the message? Get past the presentation and headlines to the facts. Headlines are created to capture interest. The devil is in the details. If the story interests you, dig in for more.
  • Is the source reliable? Think about the quality of both the information and the source. Testimonials may not be relevant.
  • How strong is the evidence? Understand the context, the type of study done, the number of people studied (if applicable) and the length of time over which the research occurred.
  • What else do I need to know? Identify the information needed to help you make a solid conclusion or sound decision. There are always factors unaccounted for in research which can have a bearing on reported results.
  • Where can I get more information? Find out more on the topic to make the best decision. Often there are two (or more) sides to an issue. A great source for vetting health research in the news is Health News Review, started by University of Minnesota journalism professor Gary Schwitzer. Find it here at www.healthnewsreview.org.

    *Questions adapted from www.health-insight-harvard.org.

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